How to include your dad in your wedding

On the morning of my wedding, 20 years ago (I know, I know – I was a child bride…), my dad sensibly stayed out of the way of the general chaos that was going on at my mum’s house. It was a hubbub of preparation, noise and growing hysteria, involving a bridesmaid who went for a run and got properly lost (in pre mobile phone days), a make-up artist shepherding people into the garden so she could work her magic in peace, my mum turning the house upside down in a frantic search for safety pins and my bridesman and his partner keeping everyone as chilled as they could with tea and hugs.

How to include your dad in your wedding ~ Sussex celebrant Claire Bradford of Creating Ceremony
Me and my dad on my wedding day

At some point in all of this (bridesmaid having been located and prepared in double quick time and safety pins still not having turned up), my dad arrived. The mayhem was still happening but it was being directed towards the wedding car which was waiting to whisk most of the wedding party to the church before coming back to pick us up.

After a crescendo of panic (which included the now-legendary moment when my bridesman ended up having to manhandle my mother – sans safety pins – into the car in his inimitable loving but firm way), they were gone. It was just my dad and me for the time it would take for the car to return to the house.

It was a surreal but beautiful 20 minutes. After all that commotion, it was just us, in the quietness. My dad is an even bigger mush bucket than I am, so he had eyes brimming with proud tears, but we were calm, laughing about the saga of the safety pins and what an odd feeling it was to be together, on the brink of this monumental moment. I remember noticing just how blue his eyes were and him giving me the tip that I still tell couples I work with now: ‘the day will be so huge that you won’t be able to remember every moment, so make conscious mental snapshots throughout the day and you’ll be able to string all the other memories around them more easily.’ Excellent advice, dad.

I walked down the aisle with him by my side and, when it came to the moment that the vicar asked ‘who brings this woman to be married to this man?’, he wouldn’t let go of my hand at first (oh my goodness I’m blubbing just remembering this moment!) and I held his hand and my husband’s for the first few moments of the ceremony until he gave me a kiss, shook my husband’s hand, and sat down. 

Fast forward two decades, and I have the huge honour of conducting lots of weddings and seeing couples’ relationships with their parents and close family. But I know that it isn’t always straightforward.  I have great privilege in having a dad in my life, and one that has been there for me, even if we haven’t always seen eye to eye on everything. So in my case, it was a no-brainer that he would walk me down the aisle.

However… I also didn’t even consider an alternative. Yes, perhaps that was my privilege, but it’s also a situation I see a lot these days. That people (especially opposite-sex couples) often don’t even question the idea of the bride – or brides – walking down the aisle with dad.

Though this is an old tradition, it is just that – a tradition. It is not a rule, and neither should it be a given. First of all, your entrance to your wedding doesn’t have to be down an aisle and, even if it is, you don’t have to be accompanied by anyone if you don’t want to be.

And let’s not forget that the tradition started because women were the ‘chattels’ of their fathers and fathers ‘gave away’ their daughters to the men they were marrying, to then become their husband’s ‘chattels’. Ouch. (This is the reason, by the way, that I won’t be asking ‘who gives this woman to be married to this man/woman?’ at your ceremony – you are nobody’s possession! But I digress…)

I don’t wish to sound cynical here. I really am all about celebrating relationships and if you and/or your partner have a great relationship with your dad that you want to mark by having him escort you down the aisle, then that is wonderful. AND it is a choice (which actually makes it even more meaningful because it’s not just the default setting!)

If you would like to include your dad in this way, why not consider saying a few words about the role he has played in your life, and in getting you to this point, that either you or your celebrant can say? And, if you are lucky enough to have both parents in your life, why not include your mum in the moment too? Your dad can still walk you down the aisle, and you can both be met at the end by your mum.

And what about your spouse-to-be? They could also honour their dad/parents by either walking down the aisle with them or standing with them at the beginning of the service. You have both come on a journey to this point, and hopefully, your parents have played a big part in your journey, so it’s a great opportunity to acknowledge and celebrate that fact.

Alternatively, you and your spouse could decide to walk down the aisle together and have your dads or both sets of parents walk ahead of you, perhaps scattering petals to prepare the way for you, or behind you, because they’ve got your back.

But what about if your dad isn’t around anymore?

Perhaps your dad has died and you would have loved nothing more than for him to be at your wedding? In this case, I have seen couples having framed pictures (or even lifesize cut-outs) of lost loved ones arranged in the front row of weddings. Or you can carry something or wear something of his that perhaps only you know about, that is representative of his presence for you. If you would still like to walk down the aisle, perhaps consider your mum, your sibling, your child or a stepfather, whichever feels most appropriate to you. And do tell your celebrant that you’d like to include your dad’s presence somehow – we’re good at doing that sort of stuff in a way that will evoke him but not bring you all down in the process.

If your dad is still physically around but hasn’t been or isn’t there for you, please remember that you do not have to have him walk you down the aisle. You can choose someone else entirely. Here’s a great post with advice on how to tell him you’ve made that choice.

What about if you have more than one dad?

Sometimes, people have a dad and a stepdad, or a dad and a father-figure. Or even a dad and a close grandad they want to involve. Depending on your relationship with them – and potentially theirs with each other! – there should be no problem in including both of them in your wedding ceremony. They could flank you down the aisle, or one could do that and the other could be a ring bearer, do a reading or contribute in another way. They might even do some sort of double act! Or you might need to keep them very separate but both involved. Again, chat with your celebrant about making it work for you.

Other ways to involve your dad in your wedding

Once I conducted a wedding where the bride arrived at the open double doors at the back of the hall with a great roar. She was on the back of a vintage Harley Davidson, arms around her dad who was driving, complete with all the leathers. Soooo unbelievably cool!

Or it might not be quite so noisy, but maybe dad could drive or just accompany you in the car…? That time was really special for me personally. 

Is your dad a great singer or musician? Maybe he could sing or play you in (or out)?

Perhaps your dad could make you some handfasting cords? And/or be the one who ties them? One couple last year realised with horror that they had left the handfasting cords they had lovingly made at home and the bride’s dad came to rescue by donating his tie! He didn’t mind at all because it was a searingly hot day – and what on the face of it was a calamity became a brilliantly personal talking point.

Or how about you have a wine box ceremony and involve your dad? One couple I wed used a bottle of wine from the estate where his dad worked; another’s dad had made and decorated the box they put their wine in.

Maybe your dad could do a reading for your wedding? He could either compose his own or search for another that speaks to him. Beware of the tears though!

Get him to be on confetti duty – making sure everyone has a handful to chuck at you at the end of the ceremony.

Or nod to your heritage on your dad’s side somehow – include a drink, a tartan, his language, a tradition, a family heirloom, a story or something else that evokes your family on his side. If he doesn’t speak English, let your celebrant know too – I’ve learned phrases in lots of different languages now to ask a dad for his blessing.

How to include your dad in your wedding. Walking down the aisle with dad ~ Sussex celebrant Claire Bradford of Creating Ceremony
by Neil Walker Photography

Whatever you do, make it joyful and collaborative. And I’ll leave you on two more bossy tips:

  • Do NOT involve your dad (or any other person for that matter) in any part of your wedding ceremony just because you feel you ‘should’, to keep the peace or just because it’s ‘tradition’. ALL aspects of your ceremony and the rest of your day should be actively chosen by you because they resonate with you, not because they’re the default option.
  • Do NOT only think that it is brides who can involve their dads. Good parental relationships can be celebrated by anyone of any gender, so if you want your mum or dad involved, whether you’re a bride or a groom, let’s do it! Don’t let tradition stop you.

As ever, if you want to chat about your wedding and how you can involve your dad (or not!) then get in touch today.